What's hot in renewables?

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The climate conference in Paris late last year threw the spotlight once again on the role of renewables in bringing down global emissions. Almost 200 countries came together to agree on how to meet the challenge of turning the world into a green economy.

Wind, solar and wave energy continue to be at the forefront of the global drive towards a lesser reliance on fossil fuels.


Wind is hot

According to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), offshore wind investments in Europe doubled in 2015.

A total of 3,019 MW in new offshore wind capacity came online in European waters in 2015, more than double what was connected to the grid in 2014. Europe's total offshore wind capacity is now 11,027 MW. A further 3,034 MW of capacity - spread across ten projects - reached final investment decision last year, a twofold increase on 2014, said the EWEA.

Giles Dickson, Chief Executive Officer of the EWEA, said: "It's good to see the high level of investments in offshore wind in Europe in 2015. The 3GW of new capacity additions is also encouraging, though it includes a large backlog of grid connections from 2014, especially in Germany.”

Germany, UK and the Netherlands led the way with 14 projects connecting grids to offshore wind turbines completed in 2015. Work is ongoing on a further 6 projects in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, which will contribute an additional 1.9GW in capacity.

On a global level, the wind energy market surged and set a new record after the \previous year’s slowdown, according to EurObserv’ER Wind energy barometer 2015. More than 52 GW of capacity was installed across the world compared to a little less than 37 GW in 2013. Global wind energy took a 41.4% leap in 2014 to culminate in more than 371 GW of installed capacity.


Solar is hot, but not in Europe

Achieving reliable solar energy in Europe will always be problematic, given the not so sunny climate of Northern Europe. Germany and to a lesser extent, France, have nevertheless made a success of solar through generous government investment. But the main reason that solar lags behind wind is the difficulties of storing the energy and the inability of grids to connect to it and cope with its varying degrees of output.

“Solar construction has more or less stopped for several reasons a significant one being that most energy grids aren’t able to take on the extra energy,” explains Taimur Malik, Associate Business Manager at Progressive GE.

Globally, however, solar develops a pace, with many massive projects underway. The first phase of Morocco’s Noor 1 power plant is nearing completion. Once complete (in 2020), the solar farm will be the largest of its kind in the world. Over in Japan, work has begun on the world’s largest floating solar plant, due for completion in 2018.


Wave works

Wave power continues to be a focus of investment. In Wales, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project has received planning consent from the British Government, but awaits an agreed Government subsidy in order to go ahead. It’s a highly innovative project, and, when completed, will be the world's first tidal lagoon. Enough renewable power would be produced for 155,000 homes (equivalent to 90% of Swansea Bay's annual domestic electricity use) for 120 years, according to the project.

Recently, the Netherlands achieved an important milestone in the tidal industry with its plant at the Eastern Scheldt barrier. This installation will be both the largest tidal energy project in the Netherlands as well as the world’s largest commercial tidal installation of five turbines in an array producing hydroelectric power.

Further afield, Australia has just switched on its first wave power station that connects to the local grid, with technology that represents a new generation in wave energy.


Recruitment challenges

“Connecting to the grid and maintenance of all the new plants will be a large factor driving recruitment trends in the future,” explains Taimur. “There’s a particular focus on, and demand for, mechanical and electrical engineering specialisations. In wind, for example, the focus has shifted from getting the farms up and running to connecting them to their respective grids.”

In addition, across Europe and within every sector, there is an ageing workforce, with fewer coming to take over those roles. “However, in the last couple of years there has been an influx of engineers from oil and gas that have retrained and upskilled and are able to work in the renewable energy sector,” adds Taimur.

In the future, countries are going to be increasingly concerned about how to transport energy from one area to another. Currently, the costs of doing so often prove prohibitive. The Noor plant was originally conceived to supply Europe with 15% of its energy needs, but this plan collapsed when its European investors pulled out.

The emergence of new technologies and the transition to a low carbon economy are prompting radical changes in energy consumption, management and storage. This brings with it new opportunities for recruitment.

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